Journal post 29; 29th april 2013

 

I began today feeling okay about things. For me; I feel that recently my placement work has really compounded a lot of the theory work we have been doing, and my confidence as a counsellor has increased. Of course, as my out of college workload has increased I have found less time to spend on my written work, not to mention any relaxation pastimes (I can’t remember the last time I picked up  a piece of knitting and sat down for an evening’s TV watching) – but I am okay with that. I am comforted by the knowledge that is the last few weeks of the course now, the final push, so this is what I expected to happen really. Of course, technical issues (like losing an entire weekend’s worth of work due to a computer crash late on sunday night) don’t help matters, but hey – what can you do?

We began by recapping on person centred theory and practise in relation to an existential perspective, and how this should be conveyed in the exam. An exercise on enhanced empathy  was enjoyable, even if I did unconsciously put myself in the ‘rebel’ role again in class discussion, and lay myself open to criticism. I always seem to do that, throw a slightly controversial perspective on things – it’s like I just feel the need to mix things up a little bit all the time. The issue debated was; how much of one’s own personality should be brought into the counselling room in a session? Of course a counsellor should always be congruent, I feel this wholeheartedly, and cannot imagine working in any other way now – but I told the group about my placement experience last week, where a moment of silence and reflection in the session had been rudely interrupted by an engine being revved outside (there is a mechanic working directly behind the building). Upon being interrupted, as we were, I felt the client’s  annoyance at the noise, and had voiced it, saying (not over aggressively, but with a snark in my voice nonetheless) ‘Oh, will you please be quiet?’ towards the window, where the noise was coming from. This felt appropriate to me to say, as it was what I was picking up from the client, and the client certainly didn’t seem to mind my reaction – he was too cross with the noise to be cross with me. Our moment of reflection had already been broken, and voicing our shared annoyance at that seemed to strengthen our togetherness, to me,  and I very much believe, to him as well. The other members of the group were concerned that my voicing of the annoyance might have taken away from his feelings in the moment; that my personality being shown might overshadow his. I listened, and understood what they were saying, but ultimately found that I could not agree – I still feel that therapeutically, it is our relationship that carries the weight of our work, and part of that relationship rests on my personality being involved. Certainly, the session is not about me in any way, shape or form, but to inject a little of me into a reaction doesn’t feel wrong to me. Well, it didn’t, anyway.

After that, we took a long time digesting the concept of Martin Buber’s ‘I-Thou’ construct. This is concerned with the way the individual relates to the rest of the world, bridging the gap between phenomenology and existentialism. Phenomenology involves  working within the client’s frame of reference, in the here and now – by linking it with existentialism we take that internal process and link it with their view of the world, their existence and their place in the world. The relationships between objects (meaning literally, objects, or people)  can be described as I -It ( a relationship which has no empathy with the object, no real connection) or I-Thou ( a relationship where the object holds a place for the individual, the individual has feelings for it, is connected to it) Once a therapist has ascertained whether there is an I-Thou relationship with an object they can begin to work on the feelings towards it. For example, in the case of an addiction – what is the role of the object the individual is addicted to? Is it a transference relationship? How will the therapist work with that? It gives us, as therapists, tools into empathising on a deeper level and direction for our work. This was brilliant for me, as one of my placements involves counselling addicts in recovery. I felt very excited that this had given me new perspectives to take into supervision with me later this week.

After lunch, we were watching skills videos again; this time it was my turn to be the client in the video – quite a traumatic experience, actually. This particular video had been shot 6 months ago – a lifetime in terms of my learning in my way of being. I couldn’t bear it, and spend the whole duration watching between my fingers, as my hands covered my face in horror. Aside from all of my usual annoyances that I have about watching myself (my weight, my voice etc) I felt a huge sadness at the incongruence conveyed by my past self; I laughed almost all the way through, despite talking about really sad experiences. I presented my information factually, as if I were disconnected from it, yet appearing to be open and okay with my dirty laundry being aired – plainly I wasn’t! I know that this video was made before my medication levels had been really looked at in detail, maybe that played a part, but the overall feeling I had was of someone who lacked self awareness in her whole demeanour, as far away from being an effective counsellor as it is possible to be. Funny, yes – quirky, yes, probably quite nice to be with at a party or something, but not a confidante, not a fellow journeyman.  I hope I have moved on as much as I think/want to have, I really do.

Process group was awful. Painful. Literally. My head started hurting towards the end of the video being shown, and built and built throughout one of the quietest, slowest, most torturous process groups ever. Hardly anyone spoke. I know why it was torturous, but I wasn’t going to say. I couldn’t be bothered to – and no one else was going to either. It is because our group has been fragmented, the splits within it have finally been acknowledged – they were out loud during our extra workshop last week. Almost all of the group members were finally present this week – way, way, way too late in the day to change things now, as far as I am concerned. I am not interested in them as participators anymore, I am sorry to say. I ran out of empathy a while ago, having given them the benefit of the doubt again and again. So, as a result there seemed little point in participating in process with them. My head was pounding by then, despite the tablets I took, and after the group had finished, I made my excuses and left the day an hour early, to go home and lie in a dark room. A somatic response to stress, pain, frustration, disappointment? Probably. Definitely. A lack of congruence in not saying anything? Just exhaustion, I think, and a feeling that it is pointless. *sigh*

 

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Journal post 27; 22nd April 2013

 

 

I began today feeling completely exhausted!  I don’t know if I am a bit under the weather at the moment, or it was because I was up till quite late the night before, writing – but either way, I felt like death. I told everyone at check in, though, and made sure I drank plenty of coffee through the day, in a bid to keep myself alert and participating. Having very nearly not come in, I was glad I did, as the day’s subject matter was introduced – existential counselling – my favourite! I was actually really pleased, for purely selfish reasons, that we would be talking about a subject that already resonated so strongly with me, as I knew it would be more likely to keep me lively for the discussion.

 

We discussed the basics of existential philosophy, the four givens – death, isolation, freedom and meaninglessness, and expanded as to how those subjects can be further developed for a counselling approach using the four dimensions of human existence – the physical, social, psychological and spiritual realms. The most prominent existential counselling theorists; Rollo May, Irvin Yalom, Emmy Van Deurzen and Mick Cooper, were discussed (I think I have mentioned all of them in previous journals at one point or another – they seem to be the counselling texts I am drawn to and take the most from) and  we – the group- read through a few texts together, prompting lots of lively discussion about how we felt about this approach. The exercise that followed from this discussion  didn’t sit too well with everybody in the group – maybe it was a little too morbid for some? But for me it was, although emotional, a breeze.  We were asked to imagine our death, consider what we would like to have written as our epitaph, imagine our funeral and contemplate our life and death, meditating thoroughly on them.  The exercise itself posed no problem for me – I visit these places daily, I think about them constantly. What was harder for me was sharing that with the group. You see, I like to think that I project a fairly sunny disposition, generally – I like to make people laugh, and think – I like to get people talking and enjoying debate, but what I do try not to talk about so much is my own private thoughts, as I feel that they are probably too dark to share.

 

I had a near death experience 13 years ago when my son was born. My heart stopped beating and I had to be revived, and I had the whole ‘floating above my body, shining white light’ thing that so many others talk of. I didn’t die though – the thing that pulled me back from the peaceful place was the fact that I had just become a mother, and I needed to see my son, and as such I spent the following ten years throwing myself into the role of mother and wife wholeheartedly, up until my divorce, anyway. I think I have also mentioned in previous journals, that I am not what one would describe as a ‘well’ person; constantly anaemic, a crohn’s sufferer and bipolar. I suppose it is living with these things and having been through what I have, that  gives me my general  questioning outlook on life – what is it all about? Am I living my life the way I want to live it? What if I were to die tomorrow? Or be incapacitated? What things give me meaning? I am quite sure that my experiences have automatically made me confront the concepts of the four givens, so as to not be afraid of them. Although, to a degree, I think that the questioning within me may have always been there – I have always counted Camus, Dostoevsky, Chekhov and Tolstoy among my favourite  fictional authors, and I love to read books on philosophy generally.

 

Anyway, as I said, my funeral has been long planned – all of my close friends and family know what I want, I tell them regularly. The epitaph was a nice follow on from that thought – ideas that I had already toyed with – what I feel I am compared with what I want to be. I have to say that after the many years of therapy I have been in, I don’t feel too incongruent with what I want to be. Of course, I have more I want to achieve – this course would be nice, for starters! I think that the main difference of note between them  is the element of ‘fear’ – there are still fears that I have, and such I still don’t feel free to fully pursue the life I want to. But I am getting better at confronting them. Recently I have felt a huge shift within me, I think I have noticeably taken a step closer to being the person I want to be – maybe it is the feeling as the end of the course approaches, or maybe it is the fact that I have been on new ‘mind meds’, and that these ones actually seem to suit me quite well!

 

The recognition of the emotional journey that I feel i have gone on, the questions that I have asked myself, I think do undoubtedly affect my style within the counselling relationship. Although I have been working from a ‘person centred’ orientation,  I feel that the congruence required of the counsellor in this ‘school’ is very much in an ‘existential’ style, and that I do already include my perception of these issues in my style in the counselling room. Likewise, the freedom offered within this approach, the humanistic foundation of considering the client as whole and their experiences, what meaning or lack thereof do they gain from that, the autonomy that both the client and counsellor are aiming for – these correlate with the existential counselling values completely, to me.

 

Skills practise in the afternoon; being aware that I was using these principles as a place to come from, made me realize that actually this was completely natural to me – this is what I already do. It was a natural, flowing session, like any that I would have with a regular client within my placement. So, well – there I have it – I guess I could describe myself as an existential counsellor, but actually, one of the things that my ‘existential’ approach to myself has taught me is that I don’t like labels particularly, certainly not on myself – so I will hold off on trying to pigeon-hole myself for a while longer yet…

 

 

Journal post 26; Monday 15th April 2013

Our first day back after the Easter break, and being the busy bee that I am (now I am working in not one but TWO placements – I started a new placement last week, working with people dealing with drug and alcohol addictions), I had hardly noticed being away – being so busy with the whole balancing act; placements, supervision, personal therapy – not to mention the fact that the kids were off school, and wanting me to cook and provide taxi services! But it seems that I was actually the only one who hadn’t missed college; the general mood within the group on check in this week, was that of deep anxiety – most of them have placements working for a children’s counselling service within schools, and as such they had a complete break from the routine for the holidays – I think that the break, combined with the sudden realisation that we are reaching the final stretch of the course (6 weeks till the exam), and are facing independence as counsellors (possibly, if we do go on to work for a service) gave everyone a sudden reality check. Do I want to be doing this? Do I feel capable of doing this? Will I continue next year? How hard am I finding this?

As usual, being me, although I empathised with the general feeling I did not share the anxiety ( as seems to be becoming a habit) Not that I was feeling full of confidence and self assuredness, but again, for me, this was a wall I had hit many weeks ago in the course, when things were not going so well; my placements were not happening, I was struggling financially and therefore could not afford the cost of the supervision and therapy required, and as a result, was feeling that I wasn’t really participating fully with the process, and was questioning my ability to do so.

A few months later, and what a difference! I am loving my placement work, beyond words. It is not easy, by any stretch, but it is challenging, and fulfilling, and – bizarrely – I actually think I might be quite good at it, too! Certainly my service manager seems pleased with my work – he is full of praise and admiration for what I do, and he even managed to arrange a training morning  for me last week, paid for by the hostel. I (maybe misguidedly, I don’t know, I hope not though) interpret that as being him having faith in me and wanting to invest in developing my skills, for the benefit of his service.

My clients, who began erratically, have settled, noticeably. Absences are rarer, and we are getting to the point in our relationships where some real work can be done. I feel the weight and power of what goes on within our sessions, and I respect and am humbled by the fact that they deem me both capable and trustworthy enough to share this with them. It feels like a very special thing that happens within the counselling room.

I do feel slightly overwhelmed by the prospect of suddenly having lots of written work to tie up, however, and the thought of the exam is not a particularly pleasant one, it is true. But am sort of stoical about these things – they are inevitable, they just have to be faced and gotten on with.

So, when we were asked to do an exercise on ’embracing authenticity’ as a counsellor and as a person (one can be both – amazing!), asked to question things within us, as whether I am comfortable feeling my feelings? Can I admit distraction, voice irritation, show my anger, put words to affection if it is there, be spontaneous with a client and cope with the unknown, be both gentle and forceful, understand my senses when working with my client, and basically BE ME in response to my client? I actually, hand on heart, felt confident and honest in answering a resounding YES, and I felt proud of myself for being able to answer that. The task asked us to reflect on the impact of congruence (authenticity, honesty, being real) in the counselling relationship – remembering instances when it had real impact on the counselling work, and to think about our congruence with ourselves. When do we feel most connected with our true selves? What has it taught us in relation to ourselves and our approach to counselling, thinking about these things? I found it a process that I met easily, with no resistance at all – in fact, I would say that for me, the path of incongruence now seems alien, horrible to me, and the impact of this in my everyday life has been huge too. I finally appear to have a decent, if only for the sake of the children, relationship with my ex-husband – and I do put that down to my true honesty with myself about how I feel towards him, and my finally relaxing on myself about how I ‘should’ feel. Equally, I am beginning to stop beating myself up in relation to my children; my parenting skills, my guilt for the harm that I believed the divorce caused them.  For the first time since my divorce I actually feel able to begin a romantic relationship again- I feel that I am honest enough with myself to trust myself again, finally. These are all huge things to me – they have made a real difference to my quality of life, and my quality of life, in turn, has made a difference to my abilities as a counsellor. I feel that I come from a much steadier, healthier place, and I think that must radiate to my clients. I don’t feel that I need to hide anything of myself to them – not that I am self-disclosing all over the place, talking about myself within the room, but if I feel compelled to I don’t worry about doing so – I feel that genuineness in the relationship is key, and whatever feels real and right within that should be trusted. Undoubtedly, my supervisory relationship has contributed to this confident feeling, as for the first time I feel that I have a professional sharing my client relationships, their journeys,  and affirming that I am going about being with them in the right way. The few times I have self-disclosed, I have gone straight to my supervisor with it, and she has reassured me that it was ok to do so.

Overall, I would say that my confidence has improved no end through my supervision sessions, generally, in fact. I am glad that I have found a good one, I feel that I have struck gold there, and it is a good feeling. A feeling which I feel is echoing through all aspects of my work right now. Of course, ask me how confident I am feeling again in six weeks time, when the exam is upon me. It may well be a very different story…

 

journal post 25; March 25th 2013

Today’s session was, well, odd. It had a very different feeling to previous weeks. I know I am in a different mind-set to how I have been. I confess, although I have been very much on top of the placement, supervision and personal therapy side of this course in the last few weeks, I have fallen slightly behind with the writing side of things. My change of meds seems to have given me a jolt, and I can feel myself in a much more positive frame of mind than I have been for a long time – of course, I am a little concerned that this could send me into a hypomanic phase; the new found emphasis on having a personal life, and the vigour with which I am pursuing it does seem alien to me (it has been so long since I have had any inclination to do so), and the fact that I am suddenly 2 journals behind does feel like a little alarm bell ringing to warn me of a potential danger that could lie ahead. But this course; the self -awareness that it has taught me, the discipline of examining my behaviour and feelings as they happen; my focus on the here and now, the learnt skill of examining both my internal and external processes; has (I think) given me a valuable tool in monitoring myself and learning how to enforce self-care – not just for my own benefit, but for the benefit of those around me, my friends, family, colleagues and clients. After all, no-one can be counselled by a crazy woman!

Self- care has been a recurring theme within our group for many weeks now. In a way I feel  that perhaps I hit that wall before some of the others did, but check in today revealed a strong sense of anxiety resonating with the other members; a fear of the ‘ever sooner looming’ exam ( we have only 8 weeks) , and the end of the course shortly thereafter. It was also painfully clear that our tutor, J, was not feeling her usual self. Check in was much briefer than usual, and an anxiety radiated from her that is not usually present. As it turned out, she revealed later in the day that she wasn’t feeling up to teaching on this day, she was exhausted by a very stressful family situation, and she recognised that she felt a little ‘unsafe’ and took her leave early. Of course, I am perfectly okay with her doing that, but before I knew that this was going on with her I did feel slightly unsettled, and it did make me worry, and immediately wonder if I, or any of the other members of the group, had done something wrong. I guess this is how a client will feel if a counsellor practises when they really shouldn’t.

So, having spent the morning revising exam techniques, trying to keep us within the discipline of writing from a strictly humanistic perspective (not always that easy when the other theoretical perspectives are always there, lurking within my mind), and most difficult of all; sticking to using humanistic language . There are times when each theoretical school will have their own terminology for describing a similar psychological process. For instance, the psychodynamic concept of transference and countertransference occurs, and could well occur within a humanistic counselling relationship too. It’s just that in humanistic terms this would be described as ‘working with the client’s feelings towards the therapist, and the therapist in turn recognising their feelings towards the client, using immediacy, having the feelings brought to their awareness within the here and now.”

The afternoon, without our tutor, was spent discussing further, going through an old past paper and discussing it within the group. One of the other group members took it upon himself to take charge of the discussion and sat in the tutor’s seat, writing on the white board and generally leading the debate, something which the other group members didn’t seem to mind very much, but I got really annoyed by! How dare he think that he knew better than anyone else in the room? My inner rebellious streak was activated, and I found myself disagreeing with him on purpose, actively, and arguing his points, insisting that I was not going to accept what he said, purely because it was he that had said it! The other group members were a little surprised at the open friction between us, but actually he seemed to take it in very good humour, welcoming the debate. Thank goodness. I did apologise for it in the process group immediately afterwards, and he seemed to not be too upset. I explained to him that actually, in a weird way to me, my feeling comfortable enough with him to challenge him and not feel worried that he would hate me for it was a big step forward for our relationship. I think it was.

I took the feeling of elation at the progress I felt our relationship had made further within the process group, and I made it my place to continue being the rebel, and challenged a couple of other group members. I took care not to sound aggressive, but I wanted to make them think. Sometimes (as if often the case within the counselling relationship) it seems perfectly clear what is going on with people, but they can’t see it themselves. A counsellor should never tell the client what their thought process is or means (an abhorrent idea, and the absolute opposite of what a good counsellor should do) but should be able to challenge the client into thinking about their process for themselves, and helping them come to their own conclusion. In fact, this is vital, as no person can ever make an assumption about what another person is thinking or feeling or acting out. Carl Rogers firmly believed that, it is one of the corner stones of person centred theory. It is hard, as a counsellor, to challenge though (as I discovered) as there has to be a huge amount of trust within the relationship for it to be acceptable, and not detrimental to the overall process.

Of course, if choosing to challenge for their own needs, as I think maybe I did at the beginning, one must be able to study why they do that, and whether that is significant. For me, I know that it follows a behaviour pattern for me. I do not like being told what to do or think, particularly not by men, it seems. A hangover from growing up in a house full of women (one of 3 daughters), going to an all-girls school, being ‘the boss’ for most of my working career, and being an independent divorcee in recent years. As behaviour patterns go, it is not one that I am too worried about actually. Maybe if it starts hindering my future relationships this will have to be something I re-address, but for now I am kind of okay with it. I don’t see the harm. I think I have intuition enough to know when to use it and when not to. Of course, my exes may not agree with that, but I like to think that that is why they are ‘exes’, not ’present’s…